by Terry Wieland
Lucile first crossed my path in 2018. One could wax metaphoric and pretend Lucile was a lady, and an auction was a masked ball, but such was not the case. She was a single-shot target rifle, the occasion was a Rock Island auction, and the lovely Lucile was way out of my price range.
Or so I thought. It turned out that she had not actually sold (didn’t breach the reserve) and was entered in the next auction with lower expectations. I attended that auction with wicked intent and credit card in hand, and carried her home in triumph. Only then did the real fun begin: Trying to figure out what she was, and where she came from.
On the surface, some of the answers are pretty simple. Lucile is a Stevens Model 52, in the upper echelon of Stevens Schützen rifles, from the era when the name Stevens denoted top-rank quality (think Stevens-Pope, and you’re there). The Stevens high-end match rifles began with the Model 51 and ended with the 54. The Model 56 was the “Lady Model” — high quality, but specialized. The differences among the 51, 52, 53, and 54 lay in their standard engraving patterns, stock shapes, and styles of lever. The barrels would (or at least could be) identical in caliber, length, weight, configuration, and, hence, accuracy.
Lucile is a typical Model 52 in everything except her engraving and factory-fitted palm rest. She has the pistol grip and loop lever that single-shot guru James Grant considered “the handsomest” of all Stevens rifles. She has beautiful walnut, sculpted into a pure Schützen stock. The scope obviously came later, being a Lyman 8X Junior Targetspot, which was not introduced until 1937. Very likely, Lucile left the Stevens factory in Chicopee Falls wearing only her tang aperture and globe front sights.
The real puzzle is the engraving. Stevens rifles of this vintage were often etched, rather than engraved. This one appears to have had the basic scenes etched, then sharpened with detailed engraving, and finally nickel plated. It was undoubtedly a special order and whoever placed it must have had money. In 1902, a Model 52 was priced at $72.00 (about $2,200 today) and presumably the engraving entailed an extra charge. He (or she) was also, obviously, a serious rifle shooter.
Who, then, was Lucile? Was she the buyer’s wife, daughter, mistress? Or was the owner a woman named Lucile? There were a few serious female Schützen shooters — hence the Model 56 “Lady Model” — but Lucile, at 13 pounds, would have been too heavy for most women during a long day of competition.
Another possibility: The rifle itself is named Lucile (like B.B. King’s guitar) or — a somewhat fanciful possibility —maybe Lucile is one of the woodchucks portrayed on the off-side of the frame.
Regardless of her history, at 120 years of age, Lucile is looking remarkably fine. What saved her from despoliation in the barbarous 1930s, when lovely single-shots were being savagely cannibalized for their actions, is anyone’s guess. Having the earlier, and weaker, Model 44 action, she would not have been suitable for hotshot cartridges like the .219 Zipper Improved or R2 Lovell. (This accounts for the fact that there are far more high-grade 44s still intact than the later, stronger, superb Model 44½ actions.)
We will never know Lucile’s full story. But maybe we don’t want to. Between the name and those woodchucks, it’s just too much fun to speculate. And the finest ladies are always mysterious.
Terry Wieland has been Shooting Editor of Gray’s since 1993 and is the author of a dozen books on hunting, shooting, and history. His latest is Great Hunting Rifles — Victorian to the Present, published by Skyhorse in 1997. Last year, Skyhorse reprinted his acclaimed 1999 book on Robert Ruark, A View From A Tall Hill.